Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has emphasised his players have to earn the right to be selected after leaving Anthony Martial out of his latest matchday squad.
Although available, forward Martial, having started the previous game, was not part of the United 18 for Thursday’s 4-0 Europa League win over Feyenoord.
Martial scored 17 goals in his first season with United last term, but has netted only twice so far in 2016-17.
Asked about the 20-year-old Frenchman’s omission, Mourinho confirmed Martial had not been injured, spoke of how he had wanted to bring Henrikh Mkhitaryan into the team, adding that “players... have to win their positions”.
Mourinho said of Martial: “He was okay for the game, it was just an option.
“He played on Saturday (in the 1-1 draw against Arsenal) and I cannot play with 12 players. I cannot have, (with those) on the bench, 19 or 20.
“You wanted to see Mkhitaryan (who shone on what was only his second United start) and I wanted to too. I cannot play all of them at the same time.
“Anthony played against Arsenal, and (Thursday) was the moment to give a chance to Mkhitaryan to start.
“So it was just an option — and I think the players, they have to win their positions.”
United are sixth in the Premier League, nine points behind leaders Chelsea.
Unable to resist a dig at Arsene Wenger, Mourinho, referring to the 2014-15 campaign in which he guided Chelsea to the trophy, said: “When I won the last title 18 years ago — sorry, 18 months ago — I had something like 10 points advantage and then in one month I had the same points as Man City.
“We recovered and won that title. But you can recover points. Other teams can lose points. During the season there are moments where everything goes against you and where everything goes in your favour.
“We know that the game is not over — but the reality is that there is a distance, and there are many quality teams.
“It’s a very difficult competition, but let’s go match by match and see what happens. We play another difficult game on Sunday— let’s see if we can get the three points.”
Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will return from his domestic ban tomorrow, having missed the 1-1 draw with Arsenal due to suspension. Wayne Rooney impressed against Feyenoord and may start.
Rooney scored his 39th goal in European competition on Thursday to move ahead of Ruud van Nistelrooy on United’s list of all-time scorers in European games. United defender Phil Jones insists Rooney’s performance shows he has risen above the media scrutiny of his private life.
“It’s been difficult for him but it’s water off a duck’s back for him,” the defender said.
“He’s dealt with that throughout his career. He’s shown that it doesn’t bother him. He put in a good performance and got his goal.”
Rooney is also closing on Bobby Charlton’s all-time haul of 249 after his 248th strike as a United player.
Meanwhile Andy Carroll is in line for a shock return for est Ham tomorrow. The striker only resumed training this week following a three-month absence with a knee problem. But manager Slaven Bilic is considering including the 27-year-old in his squad at Old Trafford as he bids to turn a stuttering season around.
“He’s been training with us for three days,” said Bilic. “He came back after a long injury and he’s very close. He could be in the squad. We’re going to see, because we are not talking about two weeks of training so we can say definitely. It has been this week, we’ll see.”
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